Why Did the Suchomskis Leave Poland?

by James D. Summers

Dr. William Galush has cited a number of factors that motivated some Poles to move elsewhere during the nineteenth century [1]. A few of these factors will be examined along with the extant evidence of the lives of John and Hedwig Suchomski to arrive at the most likely reasons for their emigration from Poland.

Leaving to Improve their Economic Condition

Between 1820 and 1914, the Polish population in partitioned Poland increased from eight to twenty-seven million. In the German partition, where the Suchomskis lived, most peasants had become farm laborers by the mid-nineteenth century. This, in fact, was John Suchomski's status when his son, Edmund, was born in 1875 [2]. His occupation was given as Käthner, one who lives in the corner of someone else's room [a sharecropper?]. By contrast, both John's father and paternal grandfather had been self-sufficient farmers. Still, wages were higher in the German partition compared with those in the Russian and Austrian partitions. Beginning in 1885, the German authorities closed the border of their sector of Poland to prevent the migration of Poles from the other partitions seeking better pay. In the United States, wages were even higher. In 1900, the daily pay for a laborer was between one and two dollars. Room and board for a single man was one dollar a week. The cost of a steamship fare was thirty dollars. With no sales or income taxes, a laborer could accumulate a fair amount of money in America. Since John already lived in the more well-off partition, the logical course to improve himself economically was to go to America.

Leaving to Avoid Germanization

Starting in 1867, Bismarck instituted Kulturkampf [culture struggle], a policy to Germanize the Poles who were under Prussian jurisdiction. It was anti-Catholic as well as anti-Polish in tone. In the 1870s, the Germans mandated compulsory elementary school education throughout their nation. The schools were used as a vehicle to promote Kulturkampf. In the face of this, the Catholic clergy in the partitions preached that America was a morally desirable destination. It is noteworthy that the Suchomskis left Poland about the time that their first surviving son, Edmund, would have been enrolled in elementary school. Apparently, they did not want their son to be Germanized. It is ironic, in the light of these facts, that some of John's grandchildren (Edmund's children) would insist that they were of German, and not Polish, background.

Leaving to Join the Rest of the Family

Emigration from Poland usually reflected a family strategy. The young men of the family were most likely to leave first. They would send remittances home to support the family in Poland. They could also arrange and pay for the steamship passage to America for other relatives. This appears to be what happened with the Suchomskis. First, John Myslinski, John Suchomski's future brother-in-law, moved to Chicago in 1869, two years before that city's fire [3]. He was the eldest son in his family. In the summer of 1873, his parents and a brother died of cholera [4]. In November, 1873, John Suchomski married one of the Myslinskis' surviving daughters, Hedwig [5]. Before 1876, Anna Urban, Hedwig's older sister, moved to Chicago with her family [6]. Then the John Suchomskis moved there before June, 1880 [7]; followed by his sister, Frances Wielewicki, and her family in 1884 [8]. John's father had died when John was only three years old [9]. It is uncertain when his mother died. The Suchomskis may have postponed their move until after her death; or perhaps Frances stayed behind until the mother's death. With all of their immediate family gone, they could make a fresh start in America.

Thus, it appears from the evidence that the Suchomskis left Poland hoping to better their lives economically; and to raise their children in a society where they could freely practice their religion and maintain their customs among immediate kin.


[1] Notes from a lecture (unless otherwise footnoted) by Dr. William J. Galush, Professor of History, Loyola University of Chicago, entitled "Leaving Home - Factors and Motivations of the Emigration of Poles from Poland," given at a meeting of the Polish Genealogical Society of America in the Social Hall of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America, 984 N. Milwaukee Av., Chicago, IL, 12 Sep 1999.

[2] Microfilm # 0529604. Poland. Bydgoszcz. Lubiewo (Swiecie) - Church Records. Salt Lake City, UT: Family History Library.

[3] Microfilm # 1577900, item 4, vol. 1a, p. 124. Illinois. Cook County. Chicago - Church Records (St. Stanislaus Kostka). Salt Lake City, UT: Family History Library.

[4] Microfilm # 0529605. Poland. Bydgoszcz. Lubiewo (Swiecie) - Church Records. Salt Lake City, UT: Family History Library.

[5] Microfilm # 1569312, item 4, p. 169. Poland. Bydgoszcz. Lubiewo (Swiecie) - Church Records. Salt Lake City, UT: Family History Library.

[6] National Archives Microfilm Roll # 196. 1880 U.S. Census, Chicago, Cook County, IL, E.D. 148, sht. 68. Chicago, IL: National Archives - Great Lakes Region.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Death Certificate # 27785 (1915), Chicago, Cook County, IL (in file for Claim # 6316, Polish Roman Catholic Union of America Insurance Records). Chicago, IL: Polish Museum of America Library.

[9] Microfilm # 0502967. Poland. Bydgoszcz. Byslaw (Tuchola) - Church Records. Salt Lake City, UT: Family History Library.